Casa Grande High School's baseball Gauchos will try to repeat as North Bay League champions with more exceptional pitching, strong defense and enough top-to-bottom hitting to make up for the loss of big boppers Francis Christy and Anthony Bender.
Bender and Christy swung the big bats during last year's 27-3 championship dream season, but they have both marched down the graduation aisle and Casa hopes to compensate with a bevy of consistent hitters that will keep the Gauchos whirling around the bases.
For the third straight spring, the Gauchos lost a potential key player before a pitch was thrown. Casey Longaker, who started at third base and was expected to be the catcher this season, injured his shoulder during an all-league football season, and will spend the spring recovering from surgery. His bat, defense and enthusiasm will be missed.
One thing that is expected to be similar to last season at the Big House is pitching and lots of it. The staff is anchored by Eric Parnow, who was 6-0 with a 1.12 earned run average last season. He was primarily the team's closer, but has the arm strength to also be a quality starter.
Dominic Garihan, 5-0 with a 0.92 earned run average as a junior, is a proven quality starter, but there is an army of strong arms behind the aces. Junior Justin Bruihl and senior Justin Toavs have both thrown well in early games.
Gaucho coach Paul Maytorena is also anxious to get more work for senior Matt McCamish and junior Nick Bostow, both of whom have the potential to add strength to the mound corps.
Then there is junior Jon Christy, a 6-foot, 6-inch athlete who was a standout in youth baseball, but didn't play last season as a sophomore, as he concentrated on basketball. He is on the mound this spring, throwing hard and throwing strikes.
With Longaker out, Nate Bills, a .321 hitter last season, moves from first base to behind the plate, where he is working hard to learn the intricacies of backstopping. Austin Garatti, whose bat will put him in the lineup somewhere — probably at first base — will serve as Bills' backup.
Tyler Moore, who played last season as a sophomore, will be the shortstop, although he can also play second base, where another veteran, Isiah Ayala is expected to start.
Although Casa Grande coach Paul Maytorena is hesitant to keep freshmen on the varsity, he will definitely make an exception for third baseman Spencer Torkelson, an outstanding athlete who has baseball maturity beyond his ninth-grade class standing. Torkelson has been outstanding through the Gauchos' first six games, fielding his position well and batting .467 with a .636 on-base percentage.
Junior Cory Stas, Toavs and Joey Markham provide infield depth, although the real depth will come from the fielders' ability to play multiple positions.
A whole host of Gauchos can play first base, and several will be likely to rotate between that spot and designated hitter. Markham has hit well in the early going and Garatti, Brian Hupke and Bruihl could all be in the mix. Bills and Parnow are other options, although both are set at other positions — Bills behind the plate and Parnow in center field when he isn't pitching.